M is for Dennis McCullough: Slow Medicine For Our Aging Loved Ones



Dennis has spent over 30 years working with people who are approaching the end of their lives.

He is the author of the book My Mother Your Mother. In it he describes what he relearned as his own mother approached death.

The book resonated with many people. It enabled them to explore how to help their parents. It also got many to consider how they wanted to approach their own care in later years.

Modern medicine has done many wonderful things, says Dennis, but it can also bring pressures. Sometimes we can get hooked on heroic interventions that maintain life, but there may also be a price to pay.

The book encourages people to look at the physical, practical and psychological issues they will encounter as they get older. The issues a person face may include, for example:

How do I want to live as I get older? How do I want to maintain a sense of purpose? How do I want to develop as a human being? How can I give to other people?

Where do I want to live? Do I want to be at home, with relatives, in a community or elsewhere? Where do I want to die?

What kinds of treatment do I want to have as I get older? Do I want to have intensive drugs and therapy? Do I want to adopt another approach? How can I make this clear to the important people in my life?

What attitude do I want to have as I approach death? What are the messages I want to give other people about life and about death? How can I have – as far as possible – a good death?

Dennis suggests aging people take the initiative and talk with their children about these issues. Here is an introduction to the short video segment above.

If you haven’t sat down with your family to talk about a medical proxy-having your loved ones make decisions for you should you know longer be able to-you are not alone. It’s a conversation most families avoid.

Here geriatrician Dr. Dennis McCullough, author of My Mother, Your Mother: Embracing Slow Medicine, The Compassionate Approach for Caring for your Aging Loved Ones, offers ideas for how to start this important discussion – and what you’ll want to cover.

Below is an introduction to the book that outlines some of the dilemmas. This excerpt is taken from his website. It starts with a piece from Dennis.



The practice of Slow Medicine has taught me that it is wise to slow down and moderate the urgent pressures of decision-making that are often pushed prematurely on elders by society, the medical profession, worried friends and family.

Well-intentioned, we want to make good and humane choices for ourselves and for those we love. We are worried by guilty feelings of neglect if we wait too long to act. We often experience nagging doubts of our adequacy in these new and very changed relationships.

Below are excerpts from a review by Dan Dunlop. The complete article can be found at:


The term slow medicine, as coined by Dr. Dennis McCullough, refers mostly to compassionate care for aging parents.

It encourages physicians to think twice when considering treatment that may have high risks and limited rewards for the elderly, death by intensive care.

Our medical system is designed to prolong life, respond quickly to crises, and provide heroic interventions.

This assembly line mentality of efficiency and high productivity is not always aligned with the best interests of frail seniors.

Patients in their 80s or 90s may not have the resilience to bounce back from such treatments, which may accelerate a prolonged decline and dependency.

Slow medicine shares with hospice care the goal of comfort rather than the cure, providing patients the choice to say no to hospitalization, surgery or medication.

It is a family-centred attention to quality and emphasis on social interchange that stresses a proactive and preventative approach for relatives to rescue the elderly from standard medical care.

Below is a long video in which Dennis starts by talking about the overall philosophy behind the ‘slow movement’ in many aspects of life. He then moves on to how it applies as we get older.

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